CAMDEN – State Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) told PolitickerNJ on Monday that state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) could “absolutely” be the first South Jersey politician to become governor since Democrat Jim Florio took office in 1990.
“He’s proven that time and time again through his leadership skills as Senate President,” said Norcross, who is now seeking the First Congressional District seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1), who resigned in February. “Unlike legislators who have individual districts, Steve advocates for the entire state. He certainly understands the problems of Bergen County just as much as Gloucester County.”
Despite his experience, Sweeney, who has served in the state Senate since 2002 and took office as Senate President in 2010, has to break the same demographic barrier all South Jersey pols must face if he chooses to run for governor in 2017: an approximately 2-to-1 population disadvantage vis-a-vis North Jersey. This lopsided situation has contributed to the fact that no South Jersey politician since Florio, who served in Trenton’s top spot from 1990 to 1994, has been elected governor in 25 years.
Sweeney has one potential North Jersey challenger waiting in the wings in a 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary: Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. Phil Murphy, a former American ambassador to Germany who was a Goldman Sachs executive, is reportedly considering a run from his Middletown, Monmouth County base.
But despite these challenges, Norcross believes that with some “luck and timing,” Sweeney can fight off all rivals.
“If you look at it only on geography, then certainly you can make those claims [that Sweeney has a disadvantage]. But I think it’s clear that if your message resonates, and you can show that what you’ve done impacts the entire state in a positive way, then it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” said Norcross after making remarks at a Camden youth education and training center that just received a $1.1 million federal grant. “They’re not going to give away the governor’s seat. But Steve has shown that he can cross over and have proven results.”
Donald Norcross’ older brother, George Norcross III, an insurance executive, is generally acknowledged to be the prime South Jersey Democratic power broker, a statewide political player whose influence reaches far into North Jersey.
PolitickerNJ asked Donald Norcross if the backing of his brother, a strong Sweeney ally, would be an asset or a liability to a statewide Sweeney campaign.
“You’ll have to talk to [George] about that,” Donald Norcross said.
A phone call to George Norcross was not immediately returned. A high-ranking South Jersey Democratic operative, however, questioned the idea that the South Jersey power broker could hinder, not help, a potential Sweeney gubernatorial run.
“There is a lefty insider group of about two dozen people that has anti-South fatigue,” the South Jersey Democratic operative said. “It’s easy to say from the cheap seats that George is an albatross around Steve Sweeney’s neck. But those people ignore the party building that George has done for Democrats statewide, as well as the resources he can marshal to compete and win in North, Central and South Jersey.”